Superwoman: A non-traditional SLP graduate student’s story

When things start piling up, you turn to the people you trust and can rely on; one such person in my life and in my SLP graduate program is Tanya Sykes-Clark. She is a first year non-traditional SLP Grad Student here at the University of West Georgia with me.  She is also a wife and mother to four children who range in age from 9 to 19.  When it comes to amazing, I defer to her. I asked for her story and perspective since there are many non-traditional students considering changing careers to Speech-Language Pathology. Allow her to explain…

Non-Traditional Student and the Decision Making Process:  

In 1997 I moved to Georgia and decided to forgo my attempts to obtain a bachelor’s degree in nursing. I chose to be a stay at home mom with two children at the time.  My husband was all for it, so I began my journey from stay at home mom to SLP student.  In 1999 I enrolled in a technical school to get my certification as a Medical Assistant.  That was an epic fail when I realized the sight of blood made me sick. In 2005, I elected to get my certification as a real estate agent and was very successful until the 2008 real estate bubble took place. Once again was thrust into considering a career change.  The real estate market not only took a dive, but destroyed any financial security I had.  Back at home again, but this time I was charged with caring for four children.

During this time my youngest son began speech therapy. His speech went from unintelligible to intelligible; the amazing change in his confidence and daily life intrigued me.  I started reflecting on my childhood when I pretended to teach my cousins during summer break, and recalled people in church would comment on my speaking and leadership abilities.  I called a number of schools, but was only able to get in touch with one program director and it just happened to be at the University of West Georgia. So in 2009, I went from being an intrigued onlooker to taking the first steps as undergraduate student in Speech-Language Pathology.

How would I do this? All the fear came creeping in. My family would have to live off of one income and figure out a schedule that would allow for me to be a full-time student and full time mother.  With much thought, organization, and planning my husband and I worked out the details and thus began my journey.

Here I am 35 years old and going back to school with people much younger than me.  You better believe I was not only nervous, but scared.  After much struggle and support, I was able to complete my bachelor’s degree in 2012, the highlight of my journey.  It was definitely not easy, but looking at my children and realizing the help that I would be able to offer to others definitely pushed me.  However, my journey did not end here.

Applying and Starting SLP Graduate School: Married with Kids

I now had to apply to SLP Graduate Schools, and consider the possibility of leaving the state and my family; SLP graduate programs are quite competitive.  I remember thinking taking the GRE was beyond my capabilities.  I had nightmares about that test, and wanted to run for cover every time I thought about it.  Yet, I applied for grad school and was accepted to the program at the University of West Georgia,  which is in-state and right around the corner from my home.

The demand of the program and all of my responsibilities at home were like a neon light on a motel that continued to flash, but the sign read CAN YOU DO THIS!  I started whipping  everyone and everything into shape at home.  My daughter, who is my biggest helper, was off at college and the men of the house (my husband and three boys) would have to pick up the slack. I am a perfectionist, and being a mom and wife is something I love and take great pride in, but now I had to pursue my dream.  Organizing my calendar and even doing homework at the football field is now a part of my routine.  

Not only was I willing to make this work for my family, I decided that in order to provide an excellent model of dedication for my children, I would have to keep moving.


I believe that being organized is the only way I can stay on top of things and still be successful in school.  This does not mean that writing everything down makes life easy, but it does help me to remember the things I need to do for everyone in my household, including myself.  I tried iPad apps, but I am an old fashioned girl. Writing things down just helps me to pay attention to what is next on my agenda.  I also add alarms to my cell phone to remind me of upcoming events and even to take medicine on time. I once left my phone at school and a friend of mine picked it up; she had to take the battery out to disable all the alarms. Sounds crazy, but when you are the manager for 5 people plus yourself, staying on task would be impossible without these organizational tools.

Family and SLP Graduate School Conflicts:

Schedule conflicts are one of my biggest nightmares.  There have been a number of school events for my children which I was unable to attend due to clinical or academic conflicts.  However, I make sure to keep in touch with my children’s teachers by email, especially when I have to miss a parent/teacher conference.  I have also signed up for a parents connect grading system for each of my children’s schools.  This allows me to see their grades that the teachers input daily.  My husband and I work around both our schedules and somehow we are making it work.  My university program does not have classes on Friday, so I generally use that day to work.  I attend football games on Friday night and Saturday for two of my sons, so I have to make sure I do any work for school Friday morning in order to attend these events with my undivided attention.  I commute 45 minutes to and from school; so I use my down time to work on research papers, projects, and therapy sessions for my clients.

Frustrations and Encouragement for non-traditional students:

I cannot give you a detailed schedule that will work for everyone, but it’s important to use your time wisely and don’t let little things frustrate you. I have learned these last few months that I cannot do it all, but to do what I can to keep moving forward with school and home life.  There are days I wake up feeling like Super Woman with an S on my chest, and then there are  days I feel like Super Woman who’s been zapped by Kryptonite.  The life of an SLP Grad Student is not easy, and adding a family to the mix makes it even more complicated.  More than once I’ve been asked how I”m able to attend graduate school, manage my schedule, my children’s schedules, be a wife, and still manage to be sane.  I cannot do it alone. I require help from everyone in order to keep the house running at full steam. I also have a support system of other colleagues at school who help me with study tips and information. Organization and a reliable support system will be the key to sanity.

Being a successful, non-traditional SLP graduate student, having a family, commuting, and succeeding in class and clinic is not impossible.


I hope Tanya’s story inspires and keeps us all motivated as we work our way through graduate school for Speech-Language Pathology.

UPDATE: Since this originally posted, Tanya has started her own blog so check it out! http://tsyspeaks.wordpress.com/

30 thoughts on “Superwoman: A non-traditional SLP graduate student’s story”

  1. Thanks for this post! I too am a “non-traditional” student – I took leveling classes online last year and am applying to grad school for next year. It’s a bit scary thinking about combining family and school but I know this is the right direction for me to go in. Good to know that others are surviving it, though I don’t think I will ever be as organized as Tanya!

    1. A very sensible approach! I saw that you had nightmares about the GRE – I can really relate to that, I hope never to have to do that test ever again! How important do you think the GRE scores in determining if you get accepted or not? I am just in the throes of finishing off my applications and am getting worried about it all!

  2. Thank you for this posting! I really enjoyed reading it and found it to be very uplifting today. I accidentally found your blog when I signed up for the ASHA convention news letter. I also have a Bachelor’s degree and have been trying to decide if it would be wise to go back to school and get into the local SLP graduate program. I am a mother of a 21 month old toddler, a wife, and a full time office manager. I found this story extremely inspiring and I also loved the super hero logo. Keep doing what you’re doing! Thanks! Laura

  3. This was extremely helpful! I finished my BS and we are pregnant with our first.I keep hearing from others that going back to school will be too difficult and I’d really love to someday. I googled information on returning to SLP grad school after children and found this! I can’t tell you thank you enough for the inspiration 🙂

    1. I think in some ways it’s easier when your kids are young – mine are more self-sufficient physically now but need more emotional support in their teen and preteen years – which can take longer. Going back to school wasn’t an option for me before now though, so I will make the best of it and remember that it’s not for ever!

  4. I have 2 kids and thought I was bad!!! I have a 4 month old and a 2 1/2 year old. I started grad school when my 2nd son was 5 weeks. I have to say it has been stressful, and sometimes the work is insurmountable, but it always seems to get done. Right now I’m just trying to stick with it. Thank you for your story as it keeps me motivated.

  5. Good evening everyone. I am so happy to see that this post has helped and inspired so many people. I am happy SLP_Echo asked me for my perspective as a non-traditional student. @rollinat, the GRE is important, but I also feel that volunteering and being a part of a professional organization are helpful as well. I feel that Graduate Programs are looking for a total package.

  6. Reblogged this on tsyspeaks and commented:
    This is a blog my dear friend asked me to write for her page. I guess you can say it is my introduction to the world of blogging.

  7. Tanya and I share a similar story! I was a returning student after 10yrs of receiving my Bachelor degree. I was at home w/2 little boys, cried while studying for GRE, juggled meals, kid’s school and sports activities while getting through the graduate program. Family and kids were so supportive! Thank you Tanya for sharing your story. Returning students are so very grateful and committed to their chosen field. And stories like yours and mine prove “YOU can do it!”

  8. Tanya, Thank you for sharing your story! I am 35 and the only parent of a 3 year old, I’ll be completing my undergrad in May. I’m in the process of applying to graduate school but have been so conflicted about going/waiting. Hopefully I didn’t take too long to decide to go for it, and can still be accepted for the fall of 13. It helps to hear another career-transitioning woman’s story, Thanks again!

  9. Thanks so much for this! I am 34 and stay home with my 5 and 2 year olds. I am waiting to hear back on my applications but terrified and excited about starting graduate school!

  10. I have two kids and am going back to school to finish my bachelors and then start my masters in SLP! I can use all the help and support I can get because I know it will be tough but I have never been more excited. In my undergrad program I am amazed at my teachers who are working full time as SLPs, raising families (all have 4+ children) and teaching on top of that. I always felt like that could be me someday! Unfortunately I have a lot of naysayers in my life, so I am reaching out to people online who can become supportive for me. I am doing all my coursework online, so I am really happy to have started blogging and meeting people who are in a similar situation.

  11. I’m so glad to see all these posts and comments. It helps me to continue to press on! I will start my SLP program in the Fall, but I’m taking 5 prerequisite classes this summer. It’s been tough since I’ve been out of school for 16 years and spent the last 10 years at home raising my 3 children (ages 13, 11, and 6). The material is exciting, but it is hard to juggle classwork and home life. You definitely need the support of family and friends to do it!

    1. Cathy, I’m glad this article found you. It’s so easy to live in your own bubble, trying to stay afloat. Kudos to you for pushing onward and upward. You will make it!

    2. Cathy, you’re story is the same as mine. What steps did you take to get into the SLP program after so many years out of school?

  12. I found this post googling moms in graduate school. Although I am in a different discipline, your article is very encouraging. I am in the second year of a 2 year program; I’m a mom of 3, work part time, and feel as though I’m running out a steam. It helps to remember there are other mothers and wives out there studying what they love, daily balancing their education with their family life, and pushing through the hard times toward their degree. Thank you!

  13. I am a first year SLP grad student about to return after winter break…I am a single mom with two teenagers and to say the least, I have felt overwhelmed. Reading this has reminded me that I’m not alone, and that great things are possible if we have faith and a good support system. Thank you for sharing your story 🙂 God bless!

    1. It’s easy to get lost in the program, tasks, and clients – forgetting other people are in the same boat. I hope you were able to get rest over the break! I am not quite ready to get back at it yet. 🙂

  14. I have recently applied to grad school for the SLP program. Just waiting to hear the results! I have been taking leveling classes over the last 2 1/2 years. I am currently a SAHM of three kids ages 8, 6, and 18 months. I’m a little concerned how to balance 3 kids, the house, and school next fall, but so far have been able to, though studying for the GRE might have been the worst part. It is encouraging to see that all of your stories and know that I’m not the only one doing this. I am looking forward to working and focusing on something just for me. Hoping to get everything organized before school begins including stocking the freezer will lots of meals. Thankfully my husband is very supportive.

  15. Any stories about seniors? I’m 52. I’ve decided to resign my position as a 1st grade teacher and focus on completing my leveling courses and studying for the GRE. Unfortunately, in the Virgin Islands, there isn’t much I can do to beef up my grad school admission application. We don’t even have any on staff at our hospital. I’m hoping to do some job shadowing this summer (week or two if possible). I’ve been searching online for some locations.

    I’d love to hear from anyone with information regarding people my age entering grad school as well as their ability to seek well paying jobs.

  16. By the way, it doesn’t appear as though Tanya Sykes-Clark posts to her blog anymore. What’s she doing now that she’s graduated?

  17. Thank you for sharing your stories ladies! We are truly powerful beyond belief. I have a seven month old who was born in the midst of leveling courses. I’m planning on earning my SLPA certificate and then working full time in order to pay for graduate school. Does anyone have experience with distance learning programs?

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